Scottish cellist and Deutsche Grammophon artist Peter Gregson has managed to carve out a career with about equal exposure to both his performing and composing talents.
The last few years have seen a steady rise to his profile as a composer of music for film with projects like Blackbird (starring Kate Winslet and Susan Sarandon), and music for the video game Boundless. He’s also known for his dance scores, having worked with the Joffrey Ballet, Dutch National Ballet, and Ballet BC, among others.
More recently, it was the Netflix blockbuster Bridgerton that highlighted his role as performer and interpreter. His adaptation of the Gigue from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6 is the musical backdrop to the rainy ball scene as Daphne and Simon dance their back into love. The music comes from his 2018 album Recomposed by Peter Gregson: Bach – The Cello Suites on the Deutsche Grammophon label.
In May, he released the first single — the title track — from his upcoming album. Patina the album will be released on September 10, 2021 on DG.
How did the new release — a series of mostly short pieces — come together? Did you write them all during the same time period, or were they collected from previously unreleased work?
It’s one body of work written between the end of 2019, when I stopped touring Bach Recomposed, and the middle of 2020. I suppose they’re short pieces, maybe in comparison with a movement of a Symphony, but I love the idea of refined, distilled ideas in a more “tapas” approach — lots of small plates rather than one large roast dinner.
Patina, the first single
“Patina”, the new single, is an interesting idea about removing melody, and the intimacy of the sounds — but in the end, it is also an absorbing piece of music. When you remove the melody, what did you find remained?
When I’m writing, I start with the melody and build from there — harmony, bass line, counter melodies, textures… they all stem from the melody. That’s how I write. With this record, it was no different, but I wanted to push and prod it a bit more, so when the music was “complete”, I would remove the melody and build it all back up again, so the counter melody became the top of the hierarchy, then I’d do that again. If the beginning of the process was like a tin of tomatoes, the end result feels like a delicious “reduction”. I found it a really inspiring process, not thinking of it as “waste” rather, an important part of the process to get the musical ideas refined to a point where nothing could be added and nothing else taken away. You feel the elements have more structural integrity when they’ve been interrogated from every angle..!
In composing music that is inspired by ideas, how do you balance the intellectual and emotional aspects of a composition — i.e. end up with an emotionally engaging piece that’s based on an idea?
I think ultimately it’s about the music, not about the concept. I spent a long time thinking about narrative, structure, ideas… and at a certain point you have to have confidence that the “intellectual” side is suitably ingrained that everything you write has that coursing through its veins.
Delving into your writing process, how much of a piece do you already have in mind when you sit down to compose — a phrase, a sound, instruments… the whole piece?
I start with a melody, and a sound. I love tinkering with sound, exploring analogue synthesisers, but then I feel it’s like taking the melody for a walk — you see where it goes, and you follow it.
The album seems to revolve around an intimate mood and gentler emotions. Was that your intention going into this project?
As a cellist, I’ve always wanted to bring the listener closer to the sound we create —the typical sound of a cello recording is from the perspective of the audience in a concert hall, but that’s not what we are creating “under the ear”, and that’s the sound I want to share — the scratches of the bow over the string, fingers on the fingerboard, the raw immediacy of that is really exciting to me.
How did the placement in Bridgerton come about? Did you know where it would be played (i.e. what scene)?
I did a performance just before lockdown at Capitol Studios in LA as a “sync showcase” alongside label mates Agnes Obel and Dustin O’Halloran for studio execs and music supervisors — I think it came about from that. With any placement, you get sent an overview of the scene and the context in which it occurs, but you can never fully interpret that especially with a show that connected as widely as Bridgerton. I was really excited to hear it come on as we really enjoyed watching the series over Christmas!
How do you look at the critic’s response to your work, which has been varied?
With an open mind. I’m glad my work can provoke thought, different responses, it’s good there are discussions around new music! Obviously, you want people to be able to find something in your work, but you have to accept it isn’t always possible that everyone will like it. I also think everyone is entitled to their opinion and interpretation, and that includes me! As the saying goes, if you put your head above the parapet, you’re going to get shot at!
Do you have any potential plans to perform, perhaps later this year? Any other plans you’d like to mention?
Yes, I do — various dates are on hold due to COVID and will hopefully be rescheduled in 2022 now, I’m on paternity leave with our second child! I hope to be back in Canada before too long (I think I last met LUDWIG VAN in Toronto around TIFF’19!). I’ve a ballet opening in Stuttgart with Gauthier Dance in mid-June which will then be touring, and a few commissions to complete this year and a new string quartet I wrote for the Carducci Quartet which is premiering this year.
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